hiking · photos · Trip Reports

A Winding Road to Windy Ridge

Kirk and I were thinking last week about places we had not visited it, and to get somewhere new to play in. We were talking about Loowit (Mt. St. Helens) and realized that while we had visited the “busy” side (the North/West side that is accessible off of I-5), neither of us had visited the lonelier East side. It’s a drive, no matter where you drive in from. It is truly in the middle of nowhere, which is exactly where I wanted to be. And what better way to say hello to Loowit’s 35th year of recovery?

And yes, not that I want you all to know just how old I am, but I did see the explosion as a child – we lived on the Cowlitz River not far down and were affected. I’ve had a long hate/love relationship with this mountain. I respect volcanoes because of her.

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The entire way in is paved (bonus!), although you won’t be speeding in many sections. But hey, it is paved. Lets not crab on that…

We stopped at Bear Meadow Interpretive Site, seeing it and thinking “I wonder what is back here?” and woah. You pull in and the mountain is right there, bigger than you might have ever seen it.

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Not only does it have amazing views (and up to this point the road is actually quite nice), it has picnic tables and pit toilets. It is a great rest area.

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The road beyond this isn’t bad – it is just that if you have never driven in the mountains, it might bother you. It is drop-offs on one side the rest of the way and few guard rails. But, again, it is paved and the views never stop. And it only gets better. Oh, what is that lake? Just Spirit Lake 😉

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From near the top (and at the top) you can see so many peaks. This is Wy’East (Mt. Hood), which is in Oregon.

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The trail from Harmony allows the only accessible access to Spirit Lake.

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The log jam at the end of Spirit Lake has slowly gotten smaller over the decades. I encountered some folks at one area who asked me why were the logs not removed. They were indignant with how our  government was wasting money and resources. Lol. Try explaining that those logs are worthless, soaked in minerals/burned through with super heated winds. In the year after the mountain exploded, there were so many scams involving people selling rights to logs that came down the rivers. My Dad had a friend who bought in – he was a sucker for get rich schemes – and got possession of a ton of worthless heavy logs that no one was going to buy, nor could you even burn them properly!

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Every turn in the road leads you closer to Loowit.

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The road ends at Windy Ridge, which hosts a parking lot, composting toilets, interpretive signs…and is yes, very, very windy. It also gets you closer to the mountain than anywhere else, unless you are climbing the mountain.

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Mt. Adams is very visible, probably one of the best views of it around.

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Across the blast zone, and Spirit Lake, lies the Johnson Ridge visitor center (you can see it with binoculars!)

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For an even better view of Loowit, go hike up!

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At the end of the road, behind the bathrooms, is this cool trail. Yes, it goes up. But it is actually safer than it appears from a distance.

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It is huge “cat box” steps, filled with crushed gravel. Did I mention it is constantly windy? It was actually cold out there!

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Mt. Adams gets better as you climb up.

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And so does Loowit.

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If you want to truly see Loowit, and be as close as you can without a permit, you MUST take the Truman 207 trail. It isn’t a long hike to the most amazing views…..

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On our way down we pulled into Meta Lake, an interpretive area. I remember Meta, in its luck of being in the direction when the mountain went. Being that it went in mid-May, with a normal snow pack, the lake and trees were buried under 8 feet of snow. Hence, while the trees were knocked over by the pyroclastic flow, the lake stayed frozen – and the small animals in the ground hibernating survived.

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The lake is quite pretty – and if you didn’t know what had caused the trees to be dead, you might think a forest fire.

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The lake was thick with Western Toad tadpoles and this zippy little Garter Snake (Western Washington’s snake – tiny, harmless and eats a zillion bugs!).

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The view-point on the lake, the wood part, was submerged under water. Oops!

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It just had a totally different look – right on the edge of the blast zone. Full of new trees, signs of Elk and Deer and a lake full of life.

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On the way down we also stopped at the Miner’s Car. Which I might add, has a paved trail from Meta’s parking lot over to it. The trail is nice, it has a long wood bridge over a wetland.

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It’s interesting to see how much the car has settled in 35 years. Its tires are now buried over halfway down. It made me think of how it will be in another 35 years.

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The hillside behind the car – very much in the blast zone.

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